Enter the Ninja
December 8, 2011
Those of us who grew up in the early 1980’s were witness to a mini-renaissance of ninja films spearheaded by Cannon Films – owned, at the time, by those scrappy Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. – with Enter the Ninja (1981). It proved successful enough to spawn two others – Revenge of the Ninja (1983) and Ninja III: The Domination (1984) – all of which featured Sho Kosugi, a Japanese of martial artist and star of numerous ninja films. You know you’re in for something special when the back of the DVD cover promises to expose ninjutsu, which includes, “the use of hypnotism, explosives and super-human fighting skills.” Now, if that doesn’t sell it for ya then nothing will.
Director Menahem Golan wastes no time trotting out the ninja stuff as he has one decked out in black showing off his skills while the opening credits appear on screen, ending with a white ninja coming on screen and kicking the black one (badly choreographed, by the way) in the head. Cole (Nero) is a white ninja (which means he’s good, right?) and we are introduced to him being chased by his arch-nemesis Hasegawa (Kosugi), the black ninja, and his flunkies – ninja dressed all in red (I guess these guys never watched Star Trek). Nero dispatches the seemingly endless supply of henchmen rather easily and has a showdown with Hasegawa (there’s even a nice bit where both of them jump off a rather tall waterfall) whom he finally bests after a prolonged confrontation. It turns out that this was all a test, which Cole passed and now he is officially a ninja, which doesn’t sit well with Hasegawa who is bitter, frustrated, and not too crazy about being bested by an American.
Regardless, Cole goes to Manila to visit an old friend of his by the name of Frank Landers (Courtney uncannily resembling James Caan in Thief) and his wife Mary-Ann (a slumming George) who live on a plantation. It seems that Frank is in trouble. He’s going to lose his land due to pressure by local crooks to sell it over to their boss – a weasely man known as the Hook (Noy) because he sports, well, a hook for a hand and a ridiculous German accent. The Hook and his cronies have scared off the local help. Impressed by Mary-Ann’s love for the land and disgusted by the way these thugs have scared off the hapless workers, Cole decides to step and put his considerable ninja skills to use. He soon learns that the Hook is only an errand boy of sorts for Mr. Venarius (George), a wealthy American businessman who thinks nothing of exploiting this country for profit. If that wasn’t enough, his old sparring buddy Hasegawa comes back for a rematch.
There is something almost comforting about seeing actual actors and stuntmen performing in action sequences that are not edited in a blender or shot with disorienting hand-held cameras or feature the use of CGI. This is strictly old school low-budget filmmaking at its cheesiest but that’s okay. At least it feels like the people who made this film actually cared about what they making and not the sterile studio feel of something like the recent Ninja Assassin (2009), which attempts to pay homage to the Cannon ninja films.
I think it’s safe to say that a generation of Americans learned everything they know about ninjutsu from Enter the Ninja and its subsequent follow-ups. There is something comforting about this film in a “it’s so bad it’s good” kind of way with its wooden acting, atrocious dialogue, subpar plotting, and a soundtrack that sounds like bad outtakes from a 1970’s cop television show, but also with plenty of cool ninja action. And let’s be honest. At the end of the day that’s what you really want out a film like this – ninja flying around attacking each other with throwing stars, smoke bomb and swords, which Enter the Ninja more than delivers.